Locking up children in ‘hotbeds of violence leads to increased sexual offences’, claims prison charity

Imprisoning children increases the likelihood of sexual offending in adult life, according to research carried out by The Commission on Sex in Prison.

Britain’s first-ever independent review of sex behind bars has found that the use of force and high levels of violence present in same-sex prisons could lead to the development of sexual aggression.

The findings are outlined in the Howard League for Penal Reform established Commission’s fourth briefing paper, Healthy Sexual Development of Children in Prison, which was released this morning.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The evidence from this independent and expert Commission shows that sentencing boys to prison damages the individual children and could store up long-term harm for society by creating future victims.

“We know that prisons holding children are hotbeds of violence. We now know that they impair healthy sexual development.”

Staff-to-child ratios have proved an issue in boys’ prisons, including HM Prison and Young Offender Institution Feltham in south west London.

“We know that prisons holding children are hotbeds of violence. We now know that they impair healthy sexual development.”

Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, published a report into HM Feltham that found daily life there was dominated by ‘unpredictable and reckless’ violence.

These problems chime with research from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics that showed that prisons housing more than 100 children put inmates at risk of sexual abuse from staff or other prisoners.

Although those statistics may vary country by country, all prisons for boys in England hold at least 130 children and the government plans to build one institution with a capacity of 320 prisoners.

The latest research cites Youth Justice Board statistics showing 5 per cent of children in custody have been convicted of sexual offences, many of whom have been victims of similar crimes.

Chris Sheffield, chair of the Commission on Sex in Prison, said: “These initial findings raise serious issues which require further research and study.

“It is a matter of deep concern if there is an increased risk of sex offences occurring as some of the studies have indicated.”

The issue of sex in prison has created homophobia and an abnormal sexual development in adolescents.

Ms Crook holds a firm stance, she said: “There is only one clear lesson – no child should be held in a prison.”

The Commission on Sex in Prison has received evidence both voluntary and from statutory agencies, prison governors and serving prisoners.

Picture courtesy of Thomas Hawk, with thanks

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